‘Right place, right time’ leads Blakestad to Council attorney job

BY KENLEA HENSON
Former Reporter
04/26/2018 08:00 AM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Tahlina Nofire Blakestad
TAHLEQUAH – Since being appointed in September, Cherokee Nation citizen Tahlina Nofire Blakestad has settled into her Tribal Council attorney role.

Blakestad grew up in Welling and graduated from Stilwell High School. She attended Northeastern State University and graduated with bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. In 2005, she graduated with a juris doctorate with a certificate in Native American Law from the University of Tulsa School of Law.

She said her parents were first-generation college graduates, and because of that she knew she wanted a successful career by furthering her education beyond a bachelor’s degree.

“Being a lawyer was always at the top of my list. However, it was in college that my path to law school was set in stone. It was there that I heard about the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) recruiting Native American females and realized that there was an exclusion of minority females in many different career fields. I seriously considered the FBI before being ‘kindly’ told by my family that maybe a different career choice would be better for me,” she said. “I immediately went back to my childhood dream of becoming a lawyer.”

After returning to her lawyer career path, she said graduating law school and passing the bar exam was challenging – financially and mentally.

“Most of my education was financed through student loans, and at times I felt out of my league attending a school where many students had their education paid for and jobs waiting on them. The support from my parents and my determination to be at the frontlines of pressing legal issues facing Indian Country helped me persevere,” she said.

Upon graduation, Blakestad worked for a law firm before spending eight years as Cherokee Nation Entertainment’s corporate compliance manager. At CNE she was responsible for ensuring its casinos adhered to industry regulations, including federal and tribal laws. In 2015, she started a private practice representing tribes.

After her mother’s passing, she moved from Tulsa to the Tahlequah area to be closer to family. She said “being in the right place at the right time” led to her current position.

“I very quickly realized how much I missed being near my tribe and was compelled to use my law license to assist in any way I could,” she said. “I hope to empower the Tribal Council to make fully informed decisions by keeping them fully advised on all legal issues affecting the Cherokee Nation and offer each Tribal Councilor candid and trusted advice.”

She continues her private practice and has expanded it to include “limited scope representation,” which helps people in her community on legal matters. She said with that business model the client is in charge of what parts of their cases they want help with and what parts they want to handle on set-fee schedules.

Blakestad is also a suicide loss survivor and spends her time advocating for mental health. She volunteers as a member of the Public Policy Committee for the Mental Health Association of Oklahoma and sits on the board for the Oklahoma Residential Assisted Living Association. She’s also the president of her family’s business, Tenkiller Behavior Services.

When she isn’t advising the Tribal Council, helping her community or volunteering, she spends time with her husband, Cody Blakestad, and their two children, Cason, 7, and Gibson, 4.

She said returning home and working for her tribe is one of the biggest blessings she’s received in her nearly 13 years of practicing law. “There is nothing better than having an opportunity to work for your own tribe,” she said.

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